Bipolar disorder is a chronic mental health illness affecting many people worldwide. It can be very debilitating and can cause a great deal of disruption in one’s life. According to the National Institute Of Mental Health (NIMH), 4.4% of people in the US battle bipolar disorder at some point in their lives.
Bipolar disorder symptoms can vary depending on a person’s gender. A PubMed article reveals that women experience symptoms of depression disorder more than men. Studies also show that women are more prone to this ailment than men.
This guide will discuss bipolar symptoms in women and what the different types of Bipolar disorders look like. It will also explain how this illness is diagnosed and what options are available for treating bipolar disorder.
What Is Bipolar Disorder?
Bipolar disorder (formerly manic or depressive episodes) is a mental health condition that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, and activity levels. The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) describes bipolar disorder as a mental health condition that causes a total drift in the victim’s mood.
The American Psychological Association also defines bipolar disorder as a chronic mental illness whereby common emotions become intensely and often unpredictably magnified. These mental health conditions often have severe risk factors and can make it hard for the affected person to carry out day-to-day tasks.
Although most people experience mood changes at various times, those related to bipolar disorder are more intense than the regular mood swings because they are accompanied by other depressive symptoms, rage, psychosis (delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia), and extreme mood swings.
Between these depressive episodes, a person with bipolar disorder may also experience mania, anxiety disorders, and substance abuse disorders, which, if not adequately treated, may result in mental illness. This is one of the reasons why the New England Journal of Medicine ranks bipolar disorders as the 17th leading source of disability among all diseases in the world.
Major Types Of Bipolar Disorder
There are three major types of bipolar disorder, and they include:
Bipolar I disorder
This is the most common type of bipolar disorder. It is characterized by manic episodes that last for at least seven days or are so severe that the person needs to be hospitalized. During these manic episodes, victims with bipolar I disorder often experience a drastic increase in energy and may feel unstoppable or uncomfortably irritable.
Bipolar II Disorder
A diagnosis of bipolar II disorder requires the victim to have at least one major depressive episode and at least one hypomanic episode. This type of bipolar disorder is characterized by a pattern of depressive episodes and hypomanic episodes, but not the full-blown manic episodes associated with bipolar I disorder.
Some people with bipolar II Disorder may have long periods of stable mood between their depressive and hypomanic episodes. They often return to their usual functioning between the manic or depressive episodes.
It’s important to note that some hypomanic episodes often feel pleasurable and can even increase performance at work or school.
Victims experiencing this type of bipolar disorder frequently have other mental illnesses like anxiety disorders or substance use disorders.
This is a form of bipolar disorder characterized by periods of hypomania and periods of depressive symptoms for at least two years (one year in children and adolescents). Women with cyclothymic bipolar disorders often experience ongoing bipolar symptoms that don’t meet the complete requirements for a bipolar I or bipolar II diagnosis.
According to the American Psychiatric Association, requirements for Cyclothymic disorder include the following:
- Many periods of hypomanic and depressive symptoms for two years, but the symptoms do not meet the criteria for a hypomanic or depressive episode.
- During the two years, the victim’s mood swings lasted for half the time and were consistent for more than two months.
Cyclothymia bipolar disorder brings emotional ups and downs but with less severe symptoms. Nevertheless, cyclothymia can affect a person’s daily life and must be taken seriously.
Bipolar Symptoms In Women
The symptoms of bipolar disorder can be divided into various broad categories, namely manic symptoms, depressive symptoms, hypomanic, and mixed-manic.
Mania is a state of elevated mood and energy. A manic episode occurs at least one week when a person is extremely high-spirited, irritable, or possesses an extraordinary energy level. During this period, victims may engage in high-risk behaviors like substance abuse, increased sexual activity, reckless spending, and bad investments.
Some typical features of manic episodes include:
- Reduced need for sleep because victims feel energetic despite having less sleep than usual
- Faster or increased speech
- Rapidly changing ideas and topics when speaking
- Uncontrollable racing thoughts
- Increased activity rate (e.g., restlessness, taking on many projects at once)
A milder variation of mania is called hypomania. You might experience increased feelings during hypomanic episodes that resemble mania. However, compared to manic episodes, these heightened moods are milder and less disruptive to daily life. Compared to men, women are more likely to experience hypomania.
Everyone feels low or sad at some point in time. However, people with bipolar disorder often experience more significant and long-lasting episodes of depression. A depressive episode is defined as a period of two weeks or longer when a person experiences five or more symptoms from the list below:
- Intense despair or sadness
- Loss of interest in activities the person once enjoyed
- Feelings of worthlessness or guilt
- Constant Fatigue
- Increased or decreased sleeping pattern
- Unstable appetite
- Restlessness (e.g., pacing) or slowed movement and speech
- Difficulty concentrating
- Frequent suicidal thoughts
Mixed Mania Symptoms
A person with bipolar disorder also experiences mixed-manic symptoms, where they experience both manic and depressive symptoms simultaneously. For example, a person might feel elated and also experience significant fatigue at the same time.
Rapid cycling is a pattern of bipolar disorder that occurs when a victim has at least four manic or depressive episodes within one year. Rapid cycling is linked to increased rates of:
- Substance abuse
- Anxiety disorder
Studies also state that hormonal changes make women more likely to experience rapid cycling than men.
Risk Factors Of Bipolar Disorder In Women
Several risk factors may increase a woman’s chance of developing bipolar disorder. These include:
- A family history of bipolar disorder or other mental health disorders
- Pregnancy and the postpartum period
- Stressful life events (e.g., divorce, loss of a job)
- Drug abuse
- Menstrual cycle
- Premenstrual syndrome and premenstrual dysphoric
Diagnosing Bipolar Disorder
The first step to receiving a bipolar disorder diagnosis is to schedule an appointment with a mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist. During the appointment, the mental health professional will likely:
- Conduct a physical exam to rule out other potential causes of symptoms
- Order lab tests to check for any underlying medical conditions that could be causing symptoms
- Assess family medical history
- Perform a psychological evaluation
- Use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) criteria to make a diagnosis.
However, you should know that no single test can diagnose bipolar disorder. Instead, diagnosis is based on symptoms, medical, and family history.
How To Manage And Treat Bipolar Disorder Symptoms
If you think you might have bipolar disorder, it is essential to seek professional help. Early diagnosis and treatment of bipolar disorder can make a big difference in managing the condition.
There are several ways to treat bipolar disorder, which may include:
Medication is the cornerstone of bipolar disorder treatment. Some effective medications like mood stabilizers, antipsychotics, and antidepressants are commonly prescribed to people with bipolar disorder.
Psychotherapy is a type of counseling that can help people with bipolar disorder manage their symptoms, identify triggers, and develop coping mechanisms. Talking to a therapist can also help many patients learn about their illness and adhere to medications, preventing future mood swings.
Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT)
ECT is a medical procedure that involves passing electrical currents through the brain to trigger seizures. It is an effective treatment that involves several rounds of a short electrical current applied to the scalp while the person is under anesthesia, leading to a brief and controlled seizure. ECT-induced seizures are believed to remodel brain signaling pathways.
Support groups allow people with bipolar disorder to share their experiences, offer and receive support, and learn from one another. These groups can be found online or in person.
Some people with bipolar disorder may also benefit from alternative treatments like acupuncture, yoga, and meditation. Speaking with a mental health professional before beginning any alternative therapies is essential.
Making lifestyle changes can also help people manage bipolar disorder. These changes may include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough sleep
- Limiting alcohol consumption
- Avoiding drug abuse
- Managing stress
As you can see, bipolar disorder in women is a severe mental illness that can profoundly affect every aspect of their lives. If you think you might have bipolar disorder, it’s crucial to seek help from a mental health professional. With proper treatment, women with bipolar disorder can live full and productive lives.